Microsoft has unveiled its latest tablet computer, the Surface Pro 3. The quick sell: It’s designed to replace both a tablet and laptop with one device—a relatively large tablet with a built-in stand, snap-on keyboard cover, and a fine-tipped stylus for drawing and writing.
In a brief test, the Surface Pro 3 does a nice job making the case for a bigger tablet. Full-bleed photos and maps look impressive on its 12-inch screen, which is significantly bigger than its predecessor Surface Pro 2’s 10.6-inch screen and has almost 50% more surface area than Apple’s top-of-the-line iPad Air. A large slate that can comfortably display both a Twitter feed and web browser at the same time seems like a great living-room or kitchen companion.
The main problem is that this is still a Windows 8 machine, missing the elegance of Apple’s iOS, its touch-based app selection, and its accessory and media ecosystem. Really, Microsoft has just made a good argument for Apple to release a larger (and even thinner) iPad Pro sometime sooner than later—that actually sounds great. (A recent report suggests Apple is developing the ability for iOS to run two apps side-by-side—key for a big tablet—a feature Windows 8 already includes.)
As a laptop replacement, the Surface 3 Pro seems less compelling, though it may require more acclimation. At Microsoft’s launch presentation in New York, an executive boasted of improvements to its snap-on keyboard cover and a hinge that props the screen to a comfortable viewing angle. (Microsoft considers this “lapability.”) But by the time you’ve added the keyboard cover, the Surface is just as bulky as a MacBook Air. And with less rigidity, it still seems tricky to wrangle and balance.
Surface Pro 3 pricing starts at $799, going up to almost $2,000—not cheap. And while Microsoft’s gadget efforts are getting better, the new Surface isn’t an obvious buy. (We’ll spend more time with it and follow up if we’ve had an epiphany.) You’re probably still better off getting a laptop or a tablet—or both—depending on your needs.